Malawi @ 50: Fog of dependency dominate London debate

Malawi Development Network – London (MDN-L), a developmental charity based in the UK, organised a discussion forum themed “Malawi @ 50: Moving Forward” which was held Saturday  May 3 at Canada Water Library in London where the issue of donor dependency dominated the discussions.

The discussion were modelled in a format of a BBC  Question Time programme and panellists were economist Watipaso Mkandawire,  media practitioner  Thom Chiumia,  former BBC journalist Pamela Chikoti and  law graduate who works at British Parliament in Westminster Augustine Chipungu.

Ably moderated by MDN-L’s Director of Legal Affairs Ms Siphiwe Phiri, the topics included the impact of foreign aid post-independence, mining and petroleum, tourism and elections.

Panellists and the moderator atthe discussion forum: Fronleft to right, Watipaso Mkandawire, Augustine Chipungu, Siphiwe Phiri, Pamela Chikoti and Thom Chiumia
Panellists and the moderator atthe discussion forum: Fronleft to right, Watipaso Mkandawire, Augustine Chipungu, Siphiwe Phiri, Pamela Chikoti and Thom Chiumia

The panellists were quick to express pride in their country’s achievement but noted that that there is still much work to be done.

Mkandawire, who works at Commonwealth secretariat, said the Malawi government need to tap into the potential, capacity and resources of the Diaspora.

He said MDN-L was established with a focus “to engage government” in tapping the potential of the Diaspora community.

Mkandawire pointed out that Malawi still rely on western donors, most notably Britain, to fund them and wondered what independence would mean when more than 40 per cent of the national government’s budget is provided by Euro-western donors.

He however said aid cannot be outright dismissed, saying the nation needs some form of aid in infrastructural development and for humanitarian assistance.

“Aid dependency should not be on whole economy but on certain areas that we feel are critical,” he said.

He noted that Israel still gets $3 billion a year in aid from United States and that Egypt and other developed countries still depend on aid in certain areas.

Mkandawire nonetheless said the Diaspora injects significantly to the economy of Malawi through remittance which goes to households and that there should be mechanism to mobilise such contributions.

In his contributions, Chiumia who is editorial director of Malawi’s online news source Nyasa Times, said Malawi development has been on “snail’s pace”.

“Any development index or report would put Malawi in the 10 least developed countries in the world. This is seen even in our GDP which is very low. People in the rural areas still cannot afford even the proverbial pinch of salt. In short Malawi has not developed in the last 50 years despite independence,” he said.

Chiumia said other countries in Asia who were poorer than Malawi during the time Malawi was gaining independence are very far ahead.

As regards media, the said he landscape has changed in that the domination of the Kamuzu Banda’s  media empire and State media has been challenged by both print and electronic media – Nation Publications Limited has challenged the dominance of  Times Group in the print while the proliferation of other radios and TV have challenged the dominance of MBC.

He said “there is some positive movement although issue of quality still come to fore.”

Chiumia also stressed that Malawi cannot attain the most sought development without the participation of Malawians in the diaspora, saying their role in national development and national-building is significant.

In her contributions, Chikoti sounded that Malawi has achieved “peace and stability” in the 50 years.

“We have some few hiccups, but all the same it is good,” she said.

Chikoti said Malawians have much to celebrate but “there is still a massive amount of work to do.”

Chipungu said Malawi has potential to develop.

“It seems to be fashionable these days to have a pessimistic view of Malawi and its future. To say that Malawi cannot move forward because its people are ill-equipped to develop the country. But sitting on that panel and listening to views expressed, and the expertise behind the people expressing those views, I can’t help but think that Malawi’s best days are not behind us, but ahead,” he said.

The Malawi @ 50 discussion
The Malawi @ 50 discussion
Photo opportunity: One of  MDN-L officials Phyllis
Photo opportunity: One of MDN-L officials Phyllis

MDN-L chairperson Mike Kachere said the discussion forum was held in pursuance of the group’s objectives which, among other things, include facilitating debate on topical issues that are critical for the development of Malawi.

Panellists and patrons including Malawi High Commission official Mufwa Mkandawire praised MDN-L members who included Pia Likoya, Rhodrick Kalumpha, Phyllis SweetJuice, Aaron Katemba and Javis Matiya for creating the platform for the excellent initiative.

On 6 July, Malawi will celebrate its ‘Golden Jubilee’, frequently referred to as ‘Malawi at 50’— fifty years’ independence from Britain.

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